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East County Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019 7 months ago

Bradenton Motorsports Park is no drag for racers

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Prose and Kohn: Ryan Kohn
by: Ryan Kohn Sports Reporter

The roar of the engines takes your breath away.

Standing at the starting line of Bradenton Motorsports Park’s Test and Tune event Feb. 7, I was stunned at the noise. I knew it would be loud, but not like that. Each and every car that jolted to the line — from legit racers to cars you could spot in any CVS parking lot — bellowed to life, made its presence known, then was gone in a flash.

This particular event did not have stakes or prizes. People were simply there to go fast in their own vehicles. There is a beauty in that simplicity, that singular desire of speed, and hundreds showed up to fill that desire.

Jeff Day and his 2009 Pontiac G8.

Jeff Day, 46, has been coming to the quarter-mile drag strip since 2001. At the Test and Tune, he was driving a 2009 Pontiac G8, which Day said doubles as his “grocery getter.” Day said his G8, which only has minor tweaks from its original version, like an improved exhaust, runs the track in around 13 seconds on average.

If I were in Day’s position, I would be terrified I would lose control and crash, totaling my car. I, however, do not have any racing experience. Day said he is not worried about wrecking the G8, and in fact recommends people bring their cars to the track instead of pushing their speedometer’s limits elsewhere.

“This is a controlled environment,” Day said. “It keeps stuff off the (public) road, stops kids from street racing. I mean, I used to do that growing up, but I enjoy this more because you’re not constantly thinking, ‘Where are the cops?’ Then you get distracted and wreck.”

The event also proved the drag strip’s prowess, as the vast majority of drivers at the Test and Tune were from different parts of the state. Rusty Kloeber, 55, drove an hour down from Lutz to show off his new ride, a custom orange 2019 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Redeye, which offers a whopping 797 horsepower. Kloeber, who has been racing at the strip for three years, bought the car four months ago for $91,000, and he said he was the second person in Florida to own one. He doesn’t want to race it anywhere else.

Rusty Kloeber and his prized 2019 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Redeye.

“There is a track closer to my home,” Kloeber said. “But it just does not have the same feel. This place might as well be my home track. I feel safe driving here. They keep up with maintenance. It’s clean. Everyone here is supportive. It feels like family.”

So, there were typical cars, like Day’s, and there were supercharged racing machines, like Kloeber’s. Then there were other things entirely.

Like the “Super Bug.”

It was the most noticeable car at the event, and that is by design, owner Ron Kersey, 78, said. His Volkswagen Super Bug is matte black, with a literal face painted on its front and its name painted in red on the sides. The eyes are bloodshot, and the teeth are dripping the juice of its latest meal. Kersey brought the car, which he has had for 10 years, from Sebring for the event. He did all the paint himself. Every tweak, actually, was done by Kersey, who added a roll cage and spoiler among other improvements. The end result looks like if Herbie the Love Bug’s cinematic story took a nightmarish turn.

“I wanted it to stand out and be different,” Kersey said. “Some people do not like it, but I do. I think it is cool.”

Count me as one who thinks the Super Bug rules. I am in favor of adding zest to all facets of life, and this car,  if nothing else, is zesty. It was running slow early in the evening, Kersey said — and it is not going to win many drag races at its peak, anyway — but by the end of the night, he got it to complete the run in 12.60 seconds.

Ron Kersey's "Super Bug" zooms through the green light in a blur.

You never know what you are going to see when you hit Bradenton Motorsports Park. All the more reason for locals to come out. The park’s general manager/tower coordinator, Laurie Johnson, said there are two big events people should watch in the near future: The National Mustang Racers Association’s Spring Break Shootout, held Feb. 28 to March 3, will feature some of the fastest Mustangs in the world, and The National Muscle Car Association’s Muscle Car Mayhem, held March 7-10, will features all makes and models.

I would urge everyone to come to at least one of these events, especially if you have never seen drag racing up close. It is an experience, one that has people driving from an hour away to get a taste.

Or, you could participate in a Test and Tune, which the park will next offer on Feb. 14 and 21 starting at 6 p.m., and see how your car stacks up. Official rules and prerequisites can be found on the park’s website.

I’m the sports reporter for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. I was born and raised in Olney, MD. My biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. My strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.

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